Book Review- What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen by Kate Fagan

I first heard about this book while listening to the Another Mother Runner podcast about it, which you can find here. The co-host, Dimity McDowell said both she and her teenage daughter had read the book and she recommended that any parent with teenagers who might end up on an athletics team in college to read this book. Well, my teenage daughter is a runner now so I thought I should definitely read this book. Not to exclude the other co-host Adrienne Martini, who also had some helpful insight and comments of her own, having gone through depression herself and having written a book about it.

Author Kate Fagan is a sports writer for espnW, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine and was a college athlete herself. She doesn’t have children of her own, so she can’t write from a parent’s perspective, but she does write from a former college athlete’s perspective. Fagan interviewed Madison Holleran’s friends and family, read Maddy’s phone messages, emails, and social media feeds to try to perhaps portray a bigger picture of what might have happened to lead to the tragic death of Madison Holleran by suicide.

Right from the beginning, you know what you’re getting into by reading this book because you know how it ends. What you don’t know at the beginning is just how quickly things can turn from bad to worse to desperate in someone’s life, even when things appear fairly smooth on the surface. Despite telling her closest friends and family members she was not happy at the Ivy league University of Pennsylvania, no one could have predicted she was so completely out of hope that she would take her own life.

What stands out the most to me is the pressure kids have to face during college and for most of them, there is little to no professional help when they need it. When Madison sought help from counselors at college, she was given a lengthy wait time, which to me is unacceptable. More resources need to be available, especially for freshman or new students.

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You may say pressure is nothing new; kids have always faced pressure in school that increases steadily through high school and peaks during college. True, pressure has always been there, but it does seem like the pressure kids are facing now is much greater than 20 years ago. All of this pressure results in anxiety and it seems like teens today are at an all-time high rate of anxiety. From the moment they enter middle school, they’re told they need to get good grades so they’ll get into AP and honors classes in high school, which they need to get accepted into “the best” colleges, then they need to excel in college to graduate with honors to get “good jobs.”

This is just the academic portion of the source of anxiety. When you add in athletics in college and how demanding the schedules are for college athletes, you have the perfect storm. Madison went from playing soccer, her self-professed true love in high school to running for University of Pennsylvania on a scholarship. She clearly missed playing soccer and wasn’t happy running at college partly because of the demanding schedule, to the extent that she typed a letter to her running coach explaining to him why she wanted to leave the team, and she brought her mother along for the meeting. However, her coach didn’t want to see her leave the team and ended up talking her into modifying her workouts but not leaving, to which she agreed.

Another aspect that Fagan covers thoroughly is social media and how it can downplay or mask negative feelings. For example, if I texted a friend that I had a bad day but then added in some silly emoticons, it might look like things weren’t really as bad as they were; the tone can easily be misinterpreted by the receiver. Tone is always difficult to portray electronically, whether through an email or text. Madison also was sure to always put up photos of herself and friends on Instagram that on the outside looked like everything was great.

So as a parent, what can we take away from this book? For starters, don’t assume you can just send your child off to college and everything will be wonderful- they’ll make friends, do well in their classes, and adjust easily. In fact, a majority of students that go away to college are woefully under-prepared both emotionally and physically. We aren’t doing our children any favors by doing their laundry for them all the time and never discussing difficult subjects with them. It’s the ultimate job of a parent to prepare their child to be an independent adult.

Keep the communication lines open, which you’ve hopefully done from the start with your child. Ask them how they feel about something rather than assuming how they feel. Make it clear that if they’re ever not happy about how things are going in their life, they should talk to someone about it, whether it’s a roommate, RA, counselor, friend, or family member. It should also be clear that if they want to transfer schools or drop out of a sport, that’s perfectly acceptable and while it’s a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, it’s certainly a viable option.

When Madison mentioned to family members she wanted to transfer schools, she was told to wait it out just a little longer, but clearly she couldn’t wait any longer. I’m sure her family had no idea things were as dire as they were with Madison, and I think that’s a huge takeaway from the book. No one ever truly knows how another person is feeling. Maybe that’s the most important thing we all need to remind ourselves.

Did any of you play on a sports team in college and if so, what was your experience like? What about you guys with kids- do you tend to avoid “difficult” conversations with your teenagers? It’s tough, I know. Teenagers especially often become quiet or don’t want to talk about certain subjects with their parents, so it’s a fine line to walk as a parent to ask questions and get conversations going but not be so pushy you scare them away. Mental health is a subject many people shy away from talking about but it’s an important topic that needs to be discussed.

Happy running!

Donna

 

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Hiking, Bathing, and Admiring Holiday Lights in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Following my half marathon in Cotter, Arkansas, and the completion of state number 44 on my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states (race report here), I decided the best place to spend the vacation portion of my racecation was in Hot Springs. Hot Springs is about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Cotter, a small town in northern Arkansas, and is about an hour from Little Rock.

Hot Springs is the number one tourist destination in Arkansas, with more than 6 million visitors per year. It’s evident the area caters to tourists, with the plethora of tourist shops, restaurants, and hotels, along with some of the more touristy things like a wax museum. One of the big draws for outdoor lovers is Hot Springs National Park.

Hot Springs National Park isn’t your typical park, since it’s located within and around the downtown area of the city of Hot Springs. The area was first protected in 1832 as Hot Springs Reservation but did not officially become a national park until 1921. The National Park Service has the perfect recommendations for how to spend your time at Hot Springs National Park here. Admission to the park is free.

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There are several options for hiking trails within the park, with some easy and others considered moderate. We ended up hiking most of the trails while we were there. If you don’t enjoy hiking or can’t hike, there is also a scenic drive through much of the park. I recommend either hiking or driving to the Mountain Tower, where you can go to the top for some great views of the area. You can either take an elevator up or go up stairs on the outside of the tower, for the same price, $8 for adults. There’s also a gift shop at the tower.

I highly recommend taking a traditional bath at Buckstaff Bathhouse, which we did, but with a bit of warning. Buckstaff Bathhouse doesn’t take reservations so you walk in, give them your last name and what services you want, pay, and go to sit and wait (upstairs for women, first floor for men) until an attendant calls your name. My last name is admittedly not the easiest to pronounce or spell, given the prevalence of how many people have trouble pronouncing and spelling it correctly. However, my daughter and I waited, and waited for our names to be called. A couple of times they called out names that no one else answered to. I later found out they had been calling our name even though never did they say anything remotely like our last name. Only after three other women that arrived after us were called back, did someone finally realize their mistake in skipping us. One attendant told me she had called our name repeatedly and asked why we didn’t answer. I told her we were sitting there the whole time and no one said anything that sounded like our name. Lesson learned- give them a very simple last name at the front desk, something that’s impossible to screw up.

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Despite having to wait much longer than we should have upon arrival, the bath treatment more than made up for it. To begin, you have a bath drawn in a private tub that’s very long, and I’m tall so it was fantastic to actually be able to stretch out completely, where you sit in the whirlpool mineral bath first. Next, I was taken to an area where an attendant put hot towels around my shoulders and lower back. After that, I went to a sitz bath, then to a wet sauna, and finished off with a needle shower. All of this cost just $33. You can add on extras like a massage, a loofah scrub, and a paraffin treatment for hands. I’ve seriously never felt more recovered after a half marathon than I did after the race in Cotter, and I completely believe it was due to the traditional bath at Buckstaff Bathhouse.

The final thing we did in Hot Springs that turned out to be one of the highlights of our time there was visiting Garvan Woodland Gardens. Normally, November wouldn’t be an ideal time to visit these gardens since not much is in bloom then but there is a lights display that is one of the best I’ve seen and well worth a visit. Holiday Lights is open November 17- December 31 and admission is $15 for adults and $5 for children. You walk around the 4 1/2 miles of land, with different areas decorated in different themes; you can also rent a golf cart for extra admission. Don’t forget to take a peek at the stunning Anthony Chapel which as my husband put it, “is made for weddings.”

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Lily pad scene, one of my favorites from Garvan Gardens

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Anthony Chapel at night

Some of our favorite restaurants in Hot Springs include:

Superior Bathhouse Brewery

Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Beer Garden

Bone’s Chophouse (a bit away from the touristy downtown area with phenomenal service and great food)

Cafe 1217 (“gourmet to go” dine in with great-tasting healthy options)

Hot Springs, Arkansas is a fun place to spend a long weekend or a few days. There are plenty of offerings to suit pretty much anyone, whether you want a girls’ weekend at the spa, hiking at the national park, or you’re a foodie and want some great food in a scenic spot. There’s also horse racing, an amusement park, Lake Catherine State Park, a science museum, and the Gangster Museum of America. I’m not exaggerating when I say every single person we talked to seemed genuinely nice and were happy to see us and talk to us. Even with all that Hot Springs has to offer, it’s an added bonus that the people are one of its greatest attributes.

Have any of you ever been to Hot Springs, Arkansas or do you plan on going someday? I know Arkansas isn’t on the radar of many people unless they live in states nearby, but it really is a beautiful area of our country with a lot to offer!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

White River Half Marathon, Cotter, Arkansas-44th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Arkansas was my 44th state.

If you want to run a marathon, half marathon, or 5k on a blazing fast course, run one of the the White River races in Cotter, Arkansas. Seriously, this group of races is well-organized, has great volunteers, has technical long sleeve shirts for all runners, huge medals for all runners, and medals for age group winners in addition to the fast courses.

Packet pickup was quick and easy the evening before the race at Cotter Schools, and there was also the option of packet pickup the morning of the race. I got my shirt, bib, and chip shoe tags (I hadn’t seen those in quite a few years) and was out in less than 10 minutes. Shirts and some other things were being sold there but honestly I just wanted to get to dinner so I didn’t spend any time looking around. There was a pre-race pasta dinner but I wanted to try some local barbecue instead.

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Race morning, November 17, was even chillier than I was hoping, at 31 degrees. Someone mentioned how it was 70 degrees at the start of last year’s race, so I was thankful it wasn’t that warm (but I think 70 at the start is unusual). Racers for the 5k, half marathon, and marathon all started together at 7 am but fortunately the course never felt crowded, even at the beginning.

Here’s part of why this course is so fast. The first mile was downhill, and the course leveled out after that. We turned around at about mile 7.5 so we didn’t have to go back up the hill from the first mile. The course was on quiet, country roads and while the course was open to traffic, the handful of drivers we did see were courteous and gave runners a wide berth when passing. We got a couple of glimpses of the White River but mostly we saw fields and rural homes. There was a field with a couple of horses watching us at one point too.

Tailwind, water, and Gu gels were offered on the course. The volunteers at the aid stations were friendly and did a good job but there was almost no crowd support on the course, as would be expected for a small race in a rural area.

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The medals for the 5k, half marathon, and marathon are all personalized to each distance

If you follow my blog, you may recall that I recently found out I’m anemic. Just a couple of weeks before this race, my hemoglobin was 6 (normal for women my age is 12-15). Despite that, I still managed to finish in 1:57:31, 4th in my age group, 61 overall out of 287. I haven’t run a half marathon this fast since 2015. Needless to say, given my poor health, I was thrilled with my result. Unfortunately I forgot to hit save on my Garmin at the finish so I have no idea what my split times were. I also made a point of not checking my watch during this race because I just wanted to run more by feel.

As I mentioned earlier, the race medals at the finish were huge and pretty cool-looking. There were also space blankets, which was a nice touch given how cool it was that morning. There was chocolate milk, water, donuts, bagels, bananas at the finish line, and then there was even more food at Cotter School.

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The finish!

My daughter ran the 5k and came in 2nd in her age group, so my husband and daughter went to get her age group medal at the school, where the awards ceremonies were. There were sausage biscuits, bananas, lemonade, Gatorade, coffee, hot chocolate, chili, and a variety of soups when they went at 9:00 for the 5k awards. I showered and changed after the half and went to the school around 10:00 and then they had pizza instead of sausage biscuits but everything else was the same.

To be a small race, this is one of the best I’ve been to. While the course wasn’t one of the most scenic I’ve ever run on, it wasn’t bad and it was definitely one of the fastest courses I’ve raced on. The volunteers were great and the food afterwards was good and plenty of it. There was also a shoe recycling area and it looked like quite a few old running shoes were collected. If you’re looking to cross Arkansas off your list, I highly recommend this race!

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Just a portion of the shoes collected at the race

www.whiterivermarathon.com

Do any of you have plans to run a race in Arkansas or have you already? If so, which one do you want to run or have you run? Do you like races in small towns along back country roads or do you prefer racing in bigger cities with big productions like the Rock n’ Roll series for example?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Why I Run- Version 2.0

My very first blog post was titled, “Why I Run,” and you can read it here. It’s a quick read and pretty basic. I recently started thinking about this question more in-depth. Sure, I run because I enjoy it and how I feel when I’m running, but I think running is more complicated than that.

As I mentioned in my first post, I’ve been running pretty much since I was a young child. Unlike my parents and older brother, I loved running, riding my bike, and swimming. Long story short of why I’m not and will probably never be a triathlete, I taught myself to swim as a kid and can actually swim half-decently in the sense of moving from one place to another but my form is terrible.

Still, as much as I enjoy swimming and cycling, these sports aren’t my true loves. Running always has been and probably always will be my first choice of activity. Although I may not always feel in the mood to run when I start, I almost always finish feeling better than when I started.

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Running in the Canary Islands

One thing I love about running are all of the health benefits. Contrary to popular belief by non-runners, running is not “bad for your knees.” In multiple studies, they’ve found that the average runner has lower incidence of osteoarthritis in their knees (and other joints). Runners also have lower incidence of a multitude of diseases and other health issues such as obesity, heart disease, multiple types of cancers, stroke, diabetes, dementia, depression, and the list goes on.

Sure, runners sometimes get injured and if enough time isn’t taken off running to let the area fully heal, that can lead to long-term problems like arthritis for example. However, I would argue that it wasn’t simply running that lead to the long-term complications, but the fact that the person was running when they shouldn’t have. This could happen with any sport, such as “tennis elbow” with a tennis player leading to more complications later in life if they don’t let their bodies heal.

Fortunately, I haven’t had many major running injuries and only once in my life had to deal with iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). Once I figured out what I needed to do (mainly stretch and use a foam roller regularly), that ugly little problem never reared its head again.

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Half marathon in Colorado- one of my toughest because of elevation!

So with no real major running injuries to speak of, I’ve seen multiple benefits to my health. All I have to do is look around at other people my age and hear about all of the health issues they’re going through to know what an advantage running has given me for my health. Most of these people I’m referring to are overweight, so honestly if they would lose the extra weight, many of their health problems would go away and they wouldn’t even have to ever run as long as they lead a healthy active lifestyle. I’m not one of those people that thinks everyone should run; just because I choose to run doesn’t mean I think everyone else should run as well. I always say whatever activity that will get your heart rate up and you enjoy doing is the one that’s best for you.

Running has also shown me and my family many parts of the United States we most likely would never have seen otherwise. By having the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states in the United States, we’ve traveled to some pretty small towns over the years. While there have been some places that we absolutely fell in love with but might not have gone to if not for the races (Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont), there have been a few places that we were not that enamored by (North Dakota, Oklahoma, Mississippi) but were still happy we got the opportunity to go. Overall, there have been more places we’ve loved or at least liked than ones we didn’t care for.

Outside of races, I feel like I must truly love running just to be able to train for the half marathons that I do run. My current half marathon training plan includes runs 5 days a week. I feel like if I didn’t inherently love to run, I would pretty quickly get tired of running that many times a week. Lately I’ve loved checking out new areas to run both around where I live and near where I work as well.

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Checking out new running routes!

Running has shown me some enormous neighborhoods that I drive by every day going to work but never even knew existed until I decided to check out some new running paths. I’ve discovered some greenways and walking trails that go on for several miles in one direction, sometimes connecting with other greenways or trails. Simply by having the attitude of “let’s see where this goes,” I’ve discovered huge areas that I never would have seen if not for running.

It’s no secret I love to travel and whenever possible, I’ll combine my love of travel and exploring new places with running. Over the years some of the most memorable places I’ve run outside the United States were in places like Costa Rica, the Canary Islands, Canada, and Austria. I’ve seen things when running that I would have missed if I would have just driven by it in a car and I’ve often gone back later to explore the area more in-depth.

In summary, I guess I love to run because it helps keep me healthy and it helps show me the world, both near and far.

Why do you run?

Happy running!

Donna

Alaska Itinerary and Travel Tips

Of all of the 50 states in the United States, Alaska is consistently in the top 10 most-visited states. Although planning a vacation to Alaska can seem a bit challenging, it’s certainly not difficult to do on your own. Alaska is by far the largest state in the United States, at 663,300 square miles and many of the major cities are vast distances from each other. Further, much of Alaska is only accessible by water, making it even more challenging to visit, hence the popularity in Alaskan cruises. But what do you do if you or your traveling companions get motion sickness on boats and a cruise is not an option or you just don’t want to take a cruise? Of course, you dive in and start planning your own itinerary!

Some questions you may ask when planning a trip to Alaska:

How long should I spend in Alaska?

The longer, the better, given the enormous size of the state and the fact that only 20% of the state is accessible by roads. For most people, roughly ten days to two weeks is a good amount of time to spend on your first visit, to get a “taste” of Alaska. It’s best to focus on visiting a few areas rather than trying to cram in a dozen different areas and spending much of your time in transit from one place to another.

Getting to Alaska and Getting Around

Although there are many small airports in Alaska, major airports include ones in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau. Other communities with jet service in Alaska include Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Glacier Bay/Gustavus, Yakutat, Cordova, Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, Adak, King Salmon, Dillingham, Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue, Barrow and Prudhoe Bay. As mentioned above, only 20% of Alaska is accessible by roads, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider driving an option. We picked up our rental car in Anchorage and were able to drive to all of the places we wanted to, without any problems, and we didn’t need a 4×4 vehicle either. This was during the summer, so if it’s winter, be prepared to drive on snowy roads. Taking the Alaska Railroad is also an option for getting between cities.

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When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Alaska?

In my opinion, there is no “best” time of year to visit anywhere and Alaska is no exception. Summer is the most popular time to visit Alaska, with mid-June to mid-August being peak season. If you prefer warmer weather and plan to do a lot of hiking, July through early August are your best bets but if you want to see the Northern Lights, the winter months when it’s the darkest are best. If you plan on going to Denali National Park, the park’s only roadway remains open through early September for bus tours although a 15-mile portion of the road is also open for private vehicles. Crowds are a bit thinner during the shoulder months of April to May and September.

Tips for Planning your Alaska Itinerary

If you plan on going during the busy summer months, book in advance whenever possible. Bus tours through Denali National Park sell out months in advance, as do campsites and accommodations in more popular areas of the state.

Because of the remoteness of the state, WiFi is non-existent in many rural areas. Cell phone service is also spotty at best in many places, even in some of the bigger cities. Download Google maps offline and drop pins on places where you want to go so you have access to areas where you don’t have coverage.

Pack for cool or cold weather even in the summer. I was a bit surprised to learn the average daytime highs in August are usually in the low-to mid-60’s Fahrenheit (16 to 19 degrees Celsius). This coupled with the fact that it rained many days made it feel pretty chilly, which brings me to my next tip.

Pack a poncho or lightweight rain jacket. August and September are the wettest months but rain is pretty common in July as well.

Consider hiking with others and/or buy bear spray. Bears are abundant in Alaska, as are moose. Many people may not realize moose are even more dangerous than bears in Alaska. Moose outnumber bears nearly three to one in Alaska, wounding around five to 10 people in the state annually. That’s more than grizzly bear and black bear attacks combined.

Remember that fresh fruits and vegetables cost more in Alaska than in the lower 48 states (as do many other things). As we were reminded with a sign in a grocery store in Alaska, those bananas have to travel a very long way to reach Alaska, which increases the cost. Alaska has a short growing season and primarily cool season vegetables such as beets, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, carrots grow here, although some fruit trees have successfully been grown near the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Tourism also increases prices so anywhere frequented heavily by cruise ships will have higher prices, especially in the direct vicinity around the port.

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Itinerary:  11 days/10 nights in Alaska

Stop 1:  Anchorage (3 nights)

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is the busiest airport in Alaska, with twice as many passengers in June, July and August as between October to April. This is likely the airport you will be flying into. For most people, it will be a long flight, and you will want to focus on checking into your hotel and resting for the first day and possibly part of the second day.

After you’ve rested up, venture out and do a bit of hiking or just driving around to take in the scenery. On our first full day in Anchorage, we saw a moose drinking water from a small lake just off a highway. This was our first moose sighting, despite having traveled previously to many other places in the US and Canada that are heavily populated by moose, so we were of course excited to stop and take some photos. As mentioned earlier, moose can be extremely dangerous, so make sure you don’t get close to the animals and give them a huge berth of space.

Chugach National Forest, which stretches for 6,908,540 acres in south central Alaska is easily accessible from Anchorage and there are many options for trails and hiking.

Mount Baldy is another hiking option and the trailhead parking lot is only about 30 minutes from downtown Anchorage.

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is a scenic place to take a walk, go for a run, or take a spin on some rental bikes.

Turnagain Arm is just south of Anchorage and I recommend driving along here and stopping at some of the stops along the way such as McHugh Creek Recreation Area and Beluga Point Lookout.

Some of our favorite restaurants in Anchorage include Snow City Café, South Restaurant and Coffeehouse, and Wild Scoops.

You can find a full description of our time in Anchorage here.

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Stop 2:  Denali National Park (3 nights)

The drive from Anchorage to the surrounding areas of Denali National Park is a long one, taking approximately 5 hours, give or take, depending on traffic and road construction (which we ran into on our way back from Denali National Park). If you can’t get reservations to stay inside the park or don’t want to stay in the park, there are options in the nearby town of Healy or a bit further away, McKinley Park.

I found the options for accommodations in Healy to range from fairly expensive to super-expensive, with nothing other than campgrounds offering anything what I would call affordable. However, I wanted to be as close to the park entrance as possible, so I chose one of the more affordable of the expensive hotels, Cabins at Denali. We had a two-story room, with nothing but a bathroom and entryway on the bottom floor and a huge room upstairs with three beds, a sitting area with a couch and coffee table, dining room table and chairs, microwave, sink, and coffee maker.

You can only drive the first 15 miles into Denali National Park, so you will need to make reservations well in advance for one of the buses. There are many options, depending if you want to get off the bus and hike or just stay on the bus, and how far into the park you want to go.

On our first day in Healy, since we arrived in the evening, we just ventured out for dinner and relaxed for the evening. We took a bus tour for hikers on our second day and it was a full day indeed, since we chose the bus tour that went several hours into the backcountry of the park. For our third day, we hiked on the trails around the areas closer to the entrance of the park that are private vehicle-accessible and went to the sled dog tour.

You can find a full description of our time in Healy and Denali National Park here.

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Stop 3:  Seward (3 nights)

Even though the drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park is a long one, the drive from Denali National Park to Seward is even longer, since you actually drive past Anchorage to get to Seward. The drive took us around 6 1/2 hours, but we stopped to do a bit of hiking along the way and break up the drive.

The area that includes Seward is filled with glaciers, so we decided to stop and hike at one before we reached our Airbnb in Seward. Driving south from Anchorage on the Seward Highway, go to the end of the 5-mile Portage Spur Road. Byron Glacier trailhead is near Portage Lake. It’s a one-mile scenic walk to the glacier face along Byron Creek.

We also hiked to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park (which has no entry fee). This is a popular glacier to visit and there will likely be crowds if you’re there during the summer. It’s an easy hike to get to the first viewing area for the glacier. There are actually two viewing areas, one a bit further away, for people that can’t or don’t want to hike the trail, and the one much closer to the glacier. If you want to walk on the glacier, you need to arrange a tour with a guide.

On our second day in Seward, we took a Kenai Fjords National Park tour with Kenai Fjords Tours, a 6 hour boat tour. Despite taking anti-motion sickness medication, my husband and daughter were still sick for the entire tour. However, I was perfectly fine and thoroughly enjoyed the tour. We saw many glaciers and animals like seals, whales, and puffins. Although this was a highlight of my time in Alaska, my husband and daughter would not say the same thing, so if you have problems with motion sickness, you should probably skip a boat tour here.

For our third day in Seward, we went to what became my daughter’s favorite part of our time in Alaska, Seavey’s Ididaride. Since it was summer, instead of being pulled by Alaskan huskies in a dogsled, we were pulled in a cart by the dogs. The dogs train year-round and you can visit here year-round and see these beautiful dogs that clearly love to run and also check out some of Mitch Seavey’s, (a former Iditarod winner), trophies and race-related gear. We also got to see and even hold some adorable Alaskan husky puppies, which was the icing on the cake for my husky-loving daughter.

Since we had a really nice house through Airbnb to stay at with a well-stocked kitchen in Seward, we stopped at a nearby grocery store on our first day so we could eat most of our meals in the house (plus it was better for our budget). We only went out to eat once, at Seward Brewing Company and really liked our food there.

You can find a full description of our time in Seward here.

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Stop 3:  Girdwood (1 night)

This is an optional stop you could even add on during your time in Anchorage, since it’s a bit under an hour from downtown Anchorage. Since we had a late evening flight back home, I thought it would be a good way to not have such a long drive from Seward to the airport (about 2/12-3 hours) and see a new area as well. It ended up being a good decision and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Girdwood.

We stayed at the beautiful Alyeska Resort and were able to snag the Summer Tram Package deal where you get free tram tickets when you stay the night. Alyeska Resort is a 300-room year-round hotel with skiing in the winter and hiking and mountain biking the rest of the year. Normally we don’t stay at huge resorts like this, but every now and then I like to splurge, and since it was just one night, it didn’t break the bank.

We took the tram up to the top of the mountain above the resort and hiked around some trails there and were rewarded with some truly gorgeous views. You can hike up and down the mountain and skip the tram, but taking the tram was a good way to save our legs to be able to do more hiking around the top.

Besides taking the tram to the top from the Hotel Alyeska and hiking up there, we really wanted to hike Lower Winner Creek Trail. The trail begins behind the Hotel Alyeska. The first 3/4 mile is a wide, well-developed boardwalk. The next 1.5 miles are easy hiking along a firm dirt trail  through the Chugach National Forest. When you reach Winner Creek Gorge, you’re in for a special treat, the hand tram. The hand tram is just like it sounds, powered by hand, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have people waiting on both sides of the gorge who will happily pull the ropes to get you across the gorge (otherwise you will have to pull yourself across). I have a fear of heights but loved going across the hand tram and highly recommend it.

For restaurants, we liked Girdwood Brewing Company (there was a food truck when we were there with awesome Mexican food), Sitzmark, Alpine Diner & Bakery, and The Bake Shop.

You can find a full description of our time in Girdwood here.

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11-day Alaska Itinerary at-a-glance

Day 1:  Anchorage- flight arrival, hotel check-in, settle in

Day 2:  Anchorage- hiking and/or Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Day 3:  Anchorage- check out Turnagain Arm

Day 4:  Healy- drive here from Anchorage

Day 5:  Denali National Park- bus tour of park

Day 6:  Denali National Park- hiking, dog-sled demonstrations

Day 7:  Seward- drive here from Healy, with option to stop at Byron Glacier along the way

Day 8:  Seward- Kenai Fjords National Park tour

Day 9:  Seward- Seavey’s Ididaride and hiking to Exit Glacier

Day 10:  Girdwood- drive here from Seward, hiking around Alyeska Resort

Day 11:  Girdwood- hiking Winner Creek Gorge, flight home

I feel like this itinerary hits some of the major highlights of Alaska, but I’m not an expert by any means; I just did a ton of research beforehand. During our time in Alaska, we felt like these places were definitely great choices and we didn’t feel like we were in the car for too much of our time there. That being said, I can’t stress enough if you are prone to motion sickness, skip the boat tours in Alaska. The water can be rough, sometimes with huge swells, and it’s just not enjoyable when you feel nauseous and sick.

Alaska is such a beautiful state with many options, even though it seems like the vast majority of people who go here do so on a cruise. I’d just like to point out you can still see different areas of the state and hike and see some of the natural beauty on your own, without a tour guide from a cruise ship. Even if you don’t like to hike, you can just go for scenic drives in many of the places I’ve mentioned, like Turnagain Arm for example. The drive from Anchorage to Seward is one of the most scenic areas I’ve ever been through.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Book Review- North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek and Jenny Jurek

I grew up on the east coast, specifically in West Virginia, which strangely enough is barely part of the Appalachian Trail (strange to me anyway). Nevertheless, I’m pretty familiar with the Appalachian Trail and have hiked through parts of it. The Appalachian Trail runs from Georgia to Maine and is about 2,200 miles long. It is often modified or re-routed, so the exact distance changes over time.

Imagine running this distance, through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine in 46 days. That is what Scott Jurek did in 2015. At the time, he broke the current record for fastest supported thru-hiking, northbound. This was since broken by Karel Sabbe on August 29, 2018 who completed the trail in 41 days, 7 hours and 39 minutes. Karl Meltzer holds the southbound record for completing the trail on September 18, 2016, in 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes.

This book also delves into the psychological aspects of completing such a task as completing a 2,200 mile-long trail in roughly a month and a half. Early on, Jurek doubted himself and his ability to complete the trail in record time. Those doubts lingered pretty much until the end was clearly in sight, and even then, the record was broken by a mere few hours. This, coming from someone (Jurek) who has won the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run seven consecutive times, the 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon twice, Hardrock Hundred and the 153 mile Spartathlon three times.

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I like how the book is broken into sections, beginning with the Deep South, then on to Virginia, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Maine, and the Epilogue. Each section of the trail is described in great detail, including the people the Jureks encounter along the trail and in the surrounding towns. It broke my heart a bit to read about some of the creepy people they met in the Deep South because that’s where I live, but I would hope it was such a small sampling of the people around the trail that it’s not the norm but rather the exception. I enjoyed reading about the outpouring of people who came to run along with Scott, bring him and his crew food, and just cheer him on. I’ve read in some online reviews that some people didn’t like how much Jurek kept referring to his vegan diet, but I wasn’t put off by any of that. I realize being vegan is a big part of his lifestyle, so it makes sense it would have a big part in the book.

One quote I liked from Jurek is “You train not to beat other people but to beat time and previous performance.” This emphasizes the camaraderie Jurek has with some other distance runners like Karl Meltzer, who currently holds the southbound record for the AT. Meltzer, among others, actually helped provide support when Jurek was trying to break the northbound record. The following year, Jurek went out to provide support to Meltzer when Meltzer successfully completed the AT in record time. These are guys who are absolute competitors on the ultramarathon course, but who shake hands at the end and have a beer together, regardless who won.

Stories of people not only enduring but conquering huge quests like this have always fascinated me, like the story of Shackleton in the book “Endurance” by Worsley and others like that, so it’s not surprising I enjoyed this book. I like reading what our minds and bodies are capable of when pushed to extremes. Recently, I wrote a review on Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance Book by Alex Hutchinson. This is basically a compilation of people pushing the limits in many different scenarios so of course I loved the book and highly recommend it.

I found myself not wanting to put this book away at night, which is ultimately my personal gauge if I really enjoy a book or not. Even though I knew how it was going to end, I still found myself pulled into the story and the characters involved. I also liked the unique aspect Scott’s wife Jenny gave by providing her side of the story.

You can find this book at Amazon, your local bookstore, or your public library. The book is 320 pages and also has some photos that were taken along the way on the Appalachian Trail, which I found added to the depth of the story.

Have any of you read this book or Scott Jurek’s other book, “Eat and Run?” Do you also enjoy reading about people pushing their limits and breaking records? Have any of you hiked part or all of the Appalachian Trail? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience!

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Round Two of My Bout With Anemia

Several years ago I noticed I was getting out of breath pretty easily, not only when I ran but also when I would do other things. The last straw was when I went up a flight of stairs at home and was so dizzy and out of breath I had to grab the wall to steady myself when I reached the top. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor the next day and was told my hemoglobin level was low- I was anemic. This was round one of my battle with anemia. For the record, in the United States, anemia is diagnosed if a blood test finds less than 13.5 g/dL in a man or less than 12 g/dL hemoglobin level in a woman.

After taking a prescribed dose of iron in combination with vitamin C, B12, and folic acid for months, I started feeling somewhat better, but honestly, it was more than a year or so after I was diagnosed with anemia before I felt like I did before the diagnosis. In the midst of all of this, I ran a half marathon in Oklahoma in March of 2011. It was one of the hardest half marathons I ever ran because of my anemia, and not suprisingly, one of my slowest. I ran another half marathon in Montana four months after that and one in Alabama four months after the race in Montana. Finally, in March of 2012 when I ran a half marathon in Virginia did I start to feel like I was getting back to normal, one full year after the race in Oklahoma and more than a year since I was diagnosed with anemia.

Now, I absolutely want to emphasize that I do not think it’s a good idea to run half marathons when you’re anemic. In fact, my doctor flat out told me I shouldn’t be running at all, let alone running half marathons. However, I did run, albeit much slower than I would have otherwise, but I’m stubborn like that.

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Me recently after completing a long run, comprised of a whole lot of walking!

Fast forward to present day, well actually more like summer of 2018. I felt very out of breath when I would run, and it seemed to be getting worse. I chalked it up to the extremely hot, humid summer we were having. When it finally cooled off and the humidity dropped, and I was still out of breath on runs, I began to think maybe something was wrong. When I went on a long run and had to stop to catch my breath before I even reached a mile, I knew for sure something was wrong.

I bought some over-the-counter iron supplements and began taking them. Still, it was getting worse. Once again, I was out of breath after just going up one flight of stairs at home. I went in for some blood work at my doctor’s office and the results came back several days later- my hemoglobin count was 6 (normal for women my age is 12-15). This was even worse than the last time I was anemic. I should say too, that the last time I was anemic, I saw three different doctors and after having multiple tests done, all of the doctors just shook their heads and said they had no idea why I was anemic. There was no apparent reason- I’m not vegetarian and I didn’t have a recent large blood loss.

What all of this means is it’s been extremely difficult for me to train for my next half marathon, coming up in two weeks. Since it will be state number 44 for me, I feel a need to still do it, even if it means I have to walk or run/walk the entire 13.1 miles! I’ve set the bar and my expectations low for this next race, with the goal of simply finishing it. Right now, that’s good enough for me.

Now a short PSA- if any of you female long-distance runners reading this haven’t been feeling quite yourself lately, such as you get out of breath easier than you used to, you feel light-headed or dizzy during or after exercise, or your resting heart rate is higher than it used to be, go to your doctor for a simple blood test to check your iron. They will check your hemoglobin level, which is an easy way to check your iron since most of your body’s iron is in the hemoglobin of your blood. Here’s a good website with some general information from UCSF Health worded in a way I really like:  Hemoglobin and Functions of Iron.

I specifically say female long-distance runners here because in endurance athletes, ‘foot strike damage’ to red blood cells in the feet due to running on hard surfaces can lead to iron loss. Iron is also lost in sweat, so if you sweat heavily (like I do), you have an increased risk of iron deficiency. These two things combined with monthly blood loss through a woman’s period can all add up to significant iron loss. I suspect that’s what happened with me. That and I also had given blood a couple of months ago, which is most likely what caused my iron stores to plummet.

Have any of you ever experienced anemia or know someone who has? Do you think you may need to get your hemoglobin level checked?

Happy running!

Donna